Monday, December 23, 2019
#FREESPEECH IN THE NEWS: December 23, 2019
As the Citadel of Free Speech here in Cleveland, we work to protect and promote the basis of our democracy by sharing related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century. Here's what's making the news – and what you should know about – in the past week.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California was angered by a story in his hometown newspaper detailing a claim that investors in a winery he partly owns partied with cocaine and prostitutes. So the Republican decided to sue — in rural Virginia.
He also chose the Old Dominion to file two other recent defamation suits, one naming San Francisco-based Twitter and an anonymous user who has mocked him in the voice of an imaginary cow. Likewise, actor Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife Amber Heard for $50 million in a Northern Virginia courthouse, claiming he was defamed in an op-ed in The Washington Post in which she called for support for domestic violence victims like herself. Both Depp and Heard live in Hollywood. Heard, who came to at least one hearing in the case, said in court filings that she had never previously set foot in the state.
The plaintiffs argue their names have been smeared and the venues are appropriate, but several of the defendants — including Twitter and Heard — say the filing location is aimed at exploiting the state’s weak protections for defamation defendants. Some legal experts say Virginia law allows those with deep pockets to bulldoze targets with frivolous, protracted and expensive litigation they couldn’t pursue in many other states.
The University of California National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement has launched the first edition of Speech Spotlight, a new journal about First Amendment-related campus issues for higher education officials.
“This initiative is intended to help members of higher education communities gain new insights into speech and civic engagement-related issues on university and college campuses,” the inaugural report said. “Each installment will address a specific topic by clarifying the issues, reframing the debate and raising critical questions to facilitate constructive discussion and effective action.”
The center plans to send additional reports in 2020 but has not finalized a publication schedule, Michelle Deutchman, the center's executive director, said in an email. Those interested in receiving the reports can visit the center's website, she said.
Sparked by a social media post and her own growing political awareness, Aleah Crawford, a 10th-grader at Erwin High in Western North Carolina, organized an in-school protest against the dress code of Buncombe County Schools, which permits the Confederate battle flag.
On Dec. 5, Crawford posted a video on the social media app SnapChat, which spliced audio of President Donald Trump encouraging supporters to retaliate against protesters at his rallies with visuals of young blacks, from both the Civil Rights era and today, being pushed by Trump supporters and police. The post instantly drew comments of both support and opposition from Erwin students. Some responded with posts of their own, encouraging students to bring Confederate symbols to school as a form of counterprotest.
On the morning of Dec. 6, around 20 Erwin High students stood arm-in-arm in a line across their school basketball court to protest the Confederate symbol. Teachers and a uniformed school resource officer hovered nearby. Several students wore colorful bandanas in defiance of the school dress code which prohibits the headwear.